Robert Leckie
Robert Leckie
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Okinawa:  The Last Battle of World War II
ISBN: 067084716X
Okinawa: The Last Battle of World War II
Robert Leckie talked about his book, "Okinawa: Last Battle of World War II," published by Viking Penguin. It focuses on the U.S. invasion of Okinawa in April 1945 by 180,00 troops, the last major step toward the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands. He also talked about his service in the Marine Corps in Guadalcanal and career as a journalist and author.
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TRANSCRIPT
Okinawa: The Last Battle of World War II
Program Air Date: September 3, 1995

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Robert Leckie, in your lifetime, how many books have you written?
ROBERT LECKIE, AUTHOR, "OKINAWA: THE LAST BATTLE OF WORLD WAR II": About 40.
LAMB: When did you start?
LECKIE: When I was 16. I loved football. I wanted to play football, but my father wouldn't let me, and now I have a theory that the knock of opportunity is a hard rap because not being allowed to play football, although I played basketball on a state championship team, I began to cover it, and that was the beginning of my career.
LAMB: After 40 books, how come a book on Okinawa?
LECKIE: Well, for one reason, my friend, Al Silverman, the editor, is an old friend of mine and he wanted a book on Okinawa and he wanted it this size, and I gave it to him and I think that that is one of the assets of this book, is that it's short and it's compressed.
LAMB: What was Okinawa?
LECKIE: Okinawa was most sought after by both sides for the reason that the Japanese did not know that we were making an atomic weapon and that we had not yet made it workable. We wanted it for a staging area. It was 60 miles long, 18 miles wide, as wide as--two miles narrow at its narrowest. It could have been a base with dozens of airfields, two huge anchorages, Inagushi and one which was later called Buckner Bay, and it was only 375 miles from Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan. Japan w--wanted to destroy the American invaders, and so Admiral Onishi, who was off the--in--in the battle of kamikaze.

Now kamikaze means `divine wind,' as I'm sure you know, but at the end of the 13th century, Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor of China, grandson of the great Genghis Khan, assembled two invasion fleets to conquer Japan. Both times--10 years apart--both times, a typhoon rose, scattered and sank the fleets. So the Japanese called it kamikaze, meaning `divine wind,' and it was a gift from the sun goddess, from whom the imperial Japanese family is supposed to have descended.

But anyway, with this new weapon and 110,000 men under Lieutenant General Ushijima, the 32nd Japanese army and especially with the kamikaze, they were going to destroy the US Navy so they could come no closer to Japan. And so they began what was called the Special Attack Corps, and these were young boys, many of them brave and dedicated. They knew nothing about flying. They flew old, decrepit crates from which even the instruments had been stripped down, in which there were no guns. All they had was the bomb. They learned enough to fly to their target, led by the conventional fighter planes. They didn't expect them to learn how to return because they weren't supposed to return, you see.

Well, the--one of the troubles with the Japanese character is that failure of any kind, especially failure in--in a--in a battle or in a war, is expiated only by taking your own life and especially any failure concerning the enemy. So that--let's go back to--I--the--oh, you know, the--the big naval battle in June--June 6th, when Yamamoto attacked--was going to--you know, the--Midway. Midway. Midway.

All right. They lost three carriers at Midway and so carrier power in the Pacific returned to equity--four American, four Japanese. But when it began, there was four Japanese and o--in--in essence--one American, you know. OK. So on the return journey, Yamamoto locked himself in his cabin and never came out, and the word `Midway' was never uttered again in the Japanese navy. Imperial general ho--headquarters, meaning the army, knew about it. Hirohito knew that there had been a--a great defeat, but neither of them knew the details, you see. So that these young boys and--and this army and I'm going to go back to Guadalacanal, where I was. I was with the...
LAMB: Let me--let me interrupt, just ask you, what service were you in?
LECKIE: Marines, 1st Marine Division.
LAMB: And what--and when did you go in the service?
LECKIE: Pearl Harbor Day. But the man said to me--the doctor--now you may want to edit this out, I don't know, but I'll s--I'll say it. He said, `I'm going to accept you,' he said, `because you're a fine physical specimen, except for one thing.' I said, `What's that?' He said, `You'll have to get circumcised first.' I said, `Circumcised? What do you think I'm going to do to the enemy?' you know. So he said, `You know something?' He said, `I know you're going to come back,' and I did, but at least I had Christmas at home and I went to Parris Island January 5th, all right?
LAMB: On December 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day, you were how old?
LECKIE: Not quite 21, so I--I w--waited until I was 21, which was December 18th.
LAMB: And where did you live then?
LECKIE: Rutherford, New Jersey, right near the--the Meadowlands and the big sports complex.
LAMB: And by that time, you'd had five years of writing?
LECKIE: Oh, many more. Sixteen--yeah, yeah, five years. Right. Right.
LAMB: And what had you written at that point? Had you had...
LECKIE: I was a sportswriter, and then I became a feature writer and a rewrite man.
LAMB: Did you have college?
LECKIE: For The Bergen Record--Bergen Record.
LAMB: Did you have college?
LECKIE: No, only after the war--even then, I never liked the classroom. I never liked the classroom. I despised the classroom mind.
LAMB: So when you went into the Marine Corps, you really had written a lot.
LECKIE: I was a private.
LAMB: You were a--you were a--a journal...
LECKIE: I was a wild kid. I made private four times. I won't discuss the occasions, but I was a wild kid. The last time they gave me a PFC stripe, they said, `Now don't lose it this time.' I said to them, `Why did you put a zipper on it?' you know. So, you know, Smedley Butler said, `Give me a regiment of brig rats and I'll rule the world.' Brig rats. Yeah.
LAMB: So you went in the day--wherever--the month after Pearl Harbor...
LECKIE: Yeah.
LAMB: ...in January of 1942.
LECKIE: Right.
LAMB: When did you go--did you ever see battle?
LECKIE: Oh, no, no, no. We were all very green. We were the most high-hearted kids you've ever seen. Most of them were--were officer material, and it's a shame that they tossed them all so early. You--you understand what I mean. And, no, I had never been in battle. I went to Parris Island, and at that time, the--the course was shortened from 12 weeks to six weeks, and we left in May for the West Coast, and we went by Pullman train because my regiment, the 1st Regiment, and the other regiment, the 5th Regiment--the 5th Regiment went by sea and was nearly sunk by a submarine. So thereafter, they took us across the continent. It was a wonderful experience.
LAMB: Yeah, but once you got into the Marine Corps, did you go into battle?
LECKIE: Oh, we went to battle August 7th, 1942, when we landed on Guadalcanal. And what I was trying to tell you about Guadalcanal is another failure in the Japanese character in that, of course, they cannot report defeat, you see. Now the first attack--I was in that battle, the Battle of the Tenaru, August 7th, 1942. It was on the Tenaru River, and what was called the Ichaki Detachment--supposed to be a crack detachment, about 2,200 men or more--they attacked my battalion the night of August 20th--21st. We killed them all. We lost 26. They don't remember those things. We lost 26. We killed 2,200. And do you know what the commanding general reported to Tokyo? The attack of the Ichaki Detachment was not entirely successful. So that's a crippling defect and has existed through all the high command.
LAMB: And you were a private in the Marine Corps?
LECKIE: Yes. Right.
LAMB: You say somewhere early in this book that you thought you were going to fight by day and write by night?
LECKIE: Yeah, that's funny. Yes. Yes, that's very funny. My typewriter was in the George F. Elliot, an African slaver, if it was anything else. They wouldn't even let us paint the thing because if we chipped the sides, they were afraid the plates would fall off. That's in San Francisco Bay. But anyway, it was sunk when I landed. Now I'm not sure I am to pretend that I was aboard it. I wasn't. We were all ashore. But a Zero crashed amidship. I don't know whether--whether he was the first kamikaze or not. But anyway, my typewriter was aboard and it sank. And I came home and the girl next door--I saw her, I fell in love with her, I married her, and I'll tell you why. She had a Royal typewriter just the same as mine.
LAMB: And that's when you came back after the war.
LECKIE: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: Now early on in this--your book, this--on Okinawa, on page 54...
LECKIE: OK.
LAMB: ...you have about a page in which you've set the scene for what it was like August 7th, 1942.
LECKIE: Yes.
LAMB: And it's got so much in it. Can you open it up to that page and read that? D--read the whole thing so we can get a sense of what it was like.
LECKIE: OK. This...
LAMB: When did you write this?
LECKIE: I wrote this when I wrote a book called "Strong Men Armed." It was published by Random House in 1962, and it was US Marines against Japan, and I described Guadalcanal and, in this book, what the jungle islands were like in which all the Americans who fought in them would realize.
LAMB: Where is Guadalcanal located in relationship to Japan?
LECKIE: Well, Guadalcanal is quite far from Japan. It's nothing like Iwo, 750 miles from Japan; Okinawa, 350. I don't know ha--know how many thousand miles, but it's in t--the--the farthest of the Solomon Islands, and they're quite a ways. They're closer to Australia than they are to Japan.
LAMB: So do you remember what age you were when you wrote this book?
LECKIE: Oh, probably just before I went -- no, I'd say about 28, 30, something like that.
LAMB: Years old.
LECKIE: Yeah.
LAMB: So this was about seven or eight years after...
LECKIE: Yes.
LAMB: What you're about to read is for--seven or eight years after you got in the Marine...
LECKIE: That's right. Yeah, after I published my first book.
LAMB: OK.
LECKIE: OK.
LAMB: Please read it.
LECKIE: `Guadalcanal--she was beautiful seen from the sea, this slender, long island. Her towering central mountains ran down her spine in a graceful east-west keel. The sun seemed to kiss her timberline and lay shimmering on open patches of tan grass, dappling the green of her forests. Gentle waves washed her beaches white, raising a glitter of sun and water and s--scoured sand beneath fringing groves of coconut trees leaning languorously seaward with nodding, star-shaped heads. She was beautiful, but beneath her loveliness, within the necklace of sand and palm, under the coiffure of her sun-kissed treetops, with its tiara of jeweled birds, she was a mass of slaps and stinks and pestilence, of scum-crested lagoons and vile swamps inhabited by giant crocodiles; a place of spiders as big as your fist and wasps as long as was your finger, of lizards the length of your leg or as brief as your thumb, of ants that bit like fire, of tree leeches that fall, fasten and suck, of scorpions without the guts to kill themselves, of centipedes, whose foul scurrying across human skin leaves a track of inflamed flesh, of snakes that slither and land crabs that scuttle, and of rats and bats and carrion and birds and of a myriad of stinging insects.

`By day, black swarms of flies feed on open cuts and make them ulcerous. By night, mosquitoes come in clouds, bringing malaria, dengue or any one of a dozen filthy, exotic fevers. Night or day the rains come, and when it is the monsoon, it comes in torrents, conferring a moist, mushrooming life on all that tangled, green of vine, fern, creeper and bush, dribbing on eternally in the rain forest, nourishing kingly hardwoods so abundantly that they soar more than 100 feet into the air, rotting them so thoroughly at their base that a rare wind or perhaps only a man leaning against them will bring them crashing down. And Guadalcanal stank. She was sour with the odor of her own decay, her breath so hot and humid, so sullen and so still that all those hundreds of thousands of Americans who came to her during the ensuing three years of war cursed and swore to feel the vitality oozing from them in a steady stream of enervating sweat.'
LAMB: Did you get malaria?
LECKIE: Oh, yes. Did you ask me if I was married?
LAMB: No, if you had malaria.
LECKIE: Nine times, and I had dengue, which is much worse--and I got that in a hospital. Dengue is called breakbone fever. It's as though your bones are in a vice and someone is turning the vice. You can't even take water. Your spleen becomes distended. You do nothing but vomit bile, so they have--if you were in the jungle, you'd certainly die. But they had to feed you in--intravenously and maybe it's just as well that I got it in the hospital. But, yeah, the malaria doesn't compare to it.
LAMB: How long were you over in the Pacific theater?
LECKIE: Almost three years.
LAMB: Were you--you in Okinawa?
LECKIE: No, I wasn't in O--thank God.
LAMB: Why?
LECKIE: Because next to Iwo and Palau, that was a shot-for-shot, step-for-step battle, chiefly because the Japanese had changed their top--tactics. Now from Guadalcanal and out to the jungle islands and so on, the Japanese military doctrine was destruction of the enemy at the water's edge, and the tactic they used was what we call the banzai charge. It was at night. They always attacked at night, no matter where, even with the new tactics, to negate our great superiority in artillery and in naval gunfire. So they would attack at night, and sometimes if they were near homeland or in a base like Guam, which was a Japanese liquor locker, sometimes they were drunk and they would come--and they would come banging their bayonets and their canteens, screaming what they thought were bloodthirsty oaths, `Japanese boy eat American boy's blood,' `US Marine, you be dead tomorrow.' What a lot of nonsense because, you see, they were shocked by the obscenities that greeted them because nobody can swear, as you may know, like US Marines. And so that was the battle tactic, and it always broke their back.
LAMB: Okinawa--the Battle of Okinawa happened what date?
LECKIE: At the--at the end. The f--the first time it was discovered was in the Battle of Biak off the coast of New Guinea. There--there was a very good commander there. He didn't want anymore what they c--the good Japanese commanders called bamboo spear tactics. So he invented the tactic of delay, defense in-depth, what was simply an a--ambush. So he made a monster steel cheese of the air force--of the airfield that was the objective. And this army regiment practically strolled into it because there had been no resistance. But when they hit the airfield, they were pinned to the ground, and they could only be redrawn at night by amtracs pulling them up through the bottom. Now that tactic was repeated again in much greater depth at Palau. I was at Palau. I got--that was the end of combat for me. Ten seven--and they had the same thing, only Palau was a--a drowned mountain heaved above the sea, coral...
LAMB: What--what was the date on Palau?
LECKIE: September 10th, 1944.
LAMB: '44.
LECKIE: Yeah. Right.
LAMB: And Okinawa was then April 1st, 1945?
LECKIE: Right. '45, yes. Right. And that tactic was developed and used again on Iwo, which is February of 1945, and brought to a fruition and perfection on Okinawa because Ushijima wisely decided not to resist at the water's edge.
LAMB: The--the Japanese general.
LECKIE: Yes, right. He was commander of the Japanese 32nd Army--110,000 men. He decided not to defend at the water's edge--edge and the greatest naval bombardment in history fell harmlessly on Haguchi beaches. The only person that was hurt in the invasion was a Marine who shot his finger off. And...
LAMB: That was the l... Mr. LECKIE ...so then the Marines went up north and they had--it was terrible terrain, but it was lightly defended, and the Army--24th Corps--four divisions and there were three Marine divisions, but one was--the second was our floating reserve off the southern beaches. Once they turned right, the Army, they came into the worst kind of fighting. These were east-west ridges, what is called crosshatch fighting. There are no passes, shallow plains, open plains, shallow rivers and so on--nothing but coral, east-west from the East China Sea to the Pacific Ocean.
LAMB: Let me ask you, before we get into the Okinawa battle itself, about your career. And you say you've written some 40 books.
LECKIE: Right.
LAMB: And in the beginning of your book, they're listed: history, autobiography, belles letters, fiction and then for younger readers.
LECKIE: Right.
LAMB: Have you made a living off of writing books?
LECKIE: Yeah. I still can drink first-growth wines. That's one of the purposes, you know.
LAMB: Which book that you've sold has sold the most?
LECKIE: You know, this one, which is the smallest, might have. But I think maybe "Helmet for My Pillow" might have because it--my God, it had 15 different jackets and was printed all over the world and it was anthologized all over the world. The war ….
LAMB: What was it? "Helmet for My Pillow"?
LECKIE: It was my own experiences, a narrative that came out in 1957--September 1957. And I would think that "Delivered from Evil," which is "The--The Saga of World War II," is still in print, and that came out in '86, I think. "The Wars of America" has been updated three times, and--and that's 1609 to 1991. And this one I am astonished at the exposure and the response.
LAMB: Why?
LECKIE: Because people are writing to me, calling me up, putting me on shows like this. I have been on sh--these shows before, but not so often, and I think it's because these people who fought on Okinawa really fought a terrific battle, especially the sailors, on picket duty, you know, with the kamikaze.
LAMB: How many American soldiers and--Marines and Army and Navy, were involved in Okinawa?
LECKIE: Yeah. Oh. The biggest ever. Five hundred and--545,000. But the most incredible feat is this: At so-called D-Day, Normandy, Ike didn't have anything approaching that number. He had absolute air superiority, though, and he had so--so--4,300 craft, but those were not all oceangoing ships by any means, and he only had 20 miles to cover. But the Americans--don't forget in the Allied Forces, there were British and there were Poles and there were free French and renegade Italians, and so on. Our assaulting force was 180,000; Ike's was 150,000. But as a feat of naval skill, most of these ships sortied from Seattle and San Francisco, going almost 8,000 miles to the battle, and they all got there on the appointed day. That is a feat of seamanship never equalled. And the reason for this is that, you know, prior to 1950, we were all in a sense--not 1950--prior to the war, we were all, in a sense, displaced Europeans, not like we are now. And the focus on Europe is understandable because of that and also because of the very attractive personality of Ike. I would not say that MacArthur's duplicated that in any way. I mean, you always wanted to ask him what he did on the seventh day. And--yes.
LAMB: You say--I wrote this down--you--at one time you referred to the typical MacArthian selfishness.
LECKIE: Oh, yes. Terrible.
LAMB: You did--you get a sense when you read your book you didn't like him.
LECKIE: I admired him at first--I admired him at first when I joined the Marines and so on and so forth, but as Ike said, he would see no other sun in the heavens. When he was approached by the first president of the Philippines and asked--you know, after he had resigned after his second tour, unheard of--it wasn't actually completed, but he--never before except in wartime had a chief--chief of staff been asked to have a second tour. He was asked by--Marcos--he was asked by the president--no, it wasn't Marcos. He was asked by the president of the Philippines if he thought the Philippines were defensible, and what he said--he was about to retire. He said, `Do I think it's defensible?' He says--he says, `I think it's more than that. I think it's invincible.'

That's ridiculous. Surrounded by water, estuaries, lagoons and everything, absolutely everywhere vulnerable to invasion from the sea. And so he became the marshal of the Philippines. And he--because he didn't have the money, he developed a fleet of mosquito boats. Well, mosquito boats can't fight on the open ocean, on the high seas. They sink. It's--they're just not--they're just not built for it. And he was--oh, he would never fall in with anyone else's plan or anything else, like the so-called Orange plan under which the US Navy and a--a holding force was to hold the Philippines while the US Navy rushed to the rescue. Eisenhower--not Eisenhower--Ike authorized and knew that plan, but when he went to the Philippines he scuttled it. And--and when Admiral Nimitz--I can go on and on, but I'm not going to. But--but when Admiral Nimitz generously loaned him the 11th Fleet which was to be returned--for Okinawa--I don't know if it was the 11th. I'm not sure. I--but anyhow, I think it was the 11th. But when he was asked to return it to sucker those--the--the--the 38s--the Task Force 38 off Okinawa, he deliberately committed it to a useless campaign.
LAMB: Let me ask you about your technique on this book. There are no notes in the back, there's no bibliography.
LECKIE: No.
LAMB: There's no--there are--from--footnotes, but they don't refer to any reference point.
LECKIE: No. No. That's what my editor wanted. All the other books are footnoted. They're not--most of the other books in the beginning were footnoted and with a bibliography and everything, as you're supposed to do, but this has no bibliography, no foot--he didn't want it. And it's selling better. Maybe that's telling me something.
LAMB: Why is it?
LECKIE: Well, I would imagine that the I don't know, but I would imagine that the ordinary reader is more satisfied with a--a smaller book and doesn't--and thinks that the footnotes and the bibliography is--are pedantic and boring and they don't like it.
LAMB: On that note, let--let's go to the very end of the book, when you talk about the generals committing...
LECKIE: Oh, yeah.
LAMB: ...hara-kiri.
LECKIE: Oh, yes. Yeah. Oh, you mean Fujijima and Cho.
LAMB: Yeah. These were the two leaders on Okinawa for the Japanese.
LECKIE: Right. Cho was the equal of--or was actually the exact opposite of--named Yohara, very calm and careful and considerate and scientific. Cho was the founder of the Cherry Society, was even--was even considering assassinating Hirohito.
LAMB: But let me ask you about definitions, because you mentioned earlier--what's a samurai?
LECKIE: A samurai?
LAMB: Yes.
LECKIE: That was a professional soldier, trained in the days of the Shoguns, who were the r--real rulers of Japan. And they--see, they were the sons of middle-class, professional soldiers, and they were trained to know neither joy nor pain, and they were to serve the Shoguns to the end. And the badge of their rank was the--the two-handed saber--what we call the samurai sword, but that's the modified one. After the new warlords took charge in China about--right after --not China, Japan, right about the time of World War I. And they--they had the right to kill anyone doing something different, and they were the shock troops, in a sense. And they had very particular style of headdress and you--and robe and so on and so forth.
LAMB: But at the end--now I'm jumping to the end because I want you to--be interested to know how you know all this--you know, the little--the details on the--the sheet and all that--that--when they decided to kill themselves.
LECKIE: Yes.
LAMB: And they--they'd lost...
LECKIE: Yeah. And they went--the two of them...
LAMB: I mean, is this the way all...
LECKIE: Yes. Oh, they--they had--they had...
LAMB: ...all the Japanese generals did it?
LECKIE: Oh, yes. They had a feast and the--the authority for this is the cook--I forget his name; it's probably here in a footnote--and--and they dressed in their ceremonial robes and they had the--the word `harakiri'--it means `stomach cutting'--and they had the ceremonial knife...
LAMB: We say --I mean, they--the American says hara-kiri. Is this--the--the term `hara-kiri'--I mean, that's the Americanized...
LECKIE: Well, at first it's hara-kiri...
LAMB: And...
LECKIE: ...then--it's changed so often. But it seems to come out finally as harakiri. I--I'm not--I'm not even sure of that. But anyway, they were prepared and they b--had a--like, almost like a prayer rug of a Muslim. They were dressed in white. They made the ceremonial bow to the emperor. They sat down, crossed their legs. Before it, they had a dinner of the most magnificent foods left, which wasn't much. A lot of sake and--but canned foods and so on and so forth. And now the man thrusts the knife into his stomach and turns it, and if the pain becomes exquisite so that he will faint, someone is always standing behind him, either with a revolver or a samurai sword, either to cut off his head, sever his spinal column or put one through his brain, and that's what usually happened, because it...
LAMB: How--how often during the war did the Japanese general do that?
LECKIE: All the time. All the time. All the time. All the time. I even had a friend who, in the s--in the--when I lived in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, who was--had been a Marine and he had what he thought were really the horns of the--you know, that legendary beast--the--the single horn--he...
LAMB: Unicorn.
LECKIE: Unicorn. And he actually did that. Of course, he was probably drunk, and they also --some of them were probably drunk. They were great drinkers, the Japanese.
LAMB: How many Americans were killed on Okinawa?
LECKIE: Twelve thousand five hundred c--casual--I have the casualties right here, exactly, on both sides. OK. Let's see.
LAMB: And roughly how many Japanese died?
LECKIE: Well, 100,000 were killed and, strangely enough, what-cha-ma-call-it--10,000 surrendered. That was unusual. That was a phenomenon.
LAMB: You even have a picture in here of the...
LECKIE: Yes. Yes. Yes.
LAMB: ...of the Japanese being guarded by only one American soldier.
LECKIE: Yes. Right. Yeah. Yeah. Roughly 100,000 --100,000 dead and, surprisingly, another 10,000 captured. American casualties totaled 49,151; Marine losses at 29,038, dead or missing and 13,708 wounded. The Army had 4,675 and 18,099 wounded; and the Navy, 4,907 and 4,824. There was little left of Japanese airpower. Losses of between 3,000 and 4,000 planes. That was...
LAMB: What was...
LECKIE: Nineteen hundred of them kamikaze.
LAMB: And a kamikaze--again, you talked about it being a young man...
LECKIE: Yeah. Right.
LAMB: ...just could fly to get to the target.
LECKIE: Just to get to the target. Yeah.
LAMB: And was committed to commit suicide.
LECKIE: Well, it--in Japan it seems that any failure has to be a--a--something has to pro--in a failure--has to be propitiated by the failure of the failure, and for them to have flocked to this thing, in the beginning, is not surprising. But after that, towards the end, they had a lot of returns. I mean, s--a lot of them knew how to return. And I even wrote an introduction to a book called "I Was a Kamikaze."
LAMB: Well, when--when you were in Guadalacanal, in the three years you were over there in the Pacific, did you see yourself kamikazes diving on carriers?
LECKIE: Oh, no. That didn't come until the Philippines and then Okinawa, because all the other battles were in the fort, of course. Right.
LAMB: So kamikazes came at the end.
LECKIE: That's right. That's right. And--jeez, what the sailors went through under--underwent was--oh, they were on a--what was called a--a radar picket line. They were all destroyers and they were in a circle around Okinawa, and their mission was to give warning of the approach of the enemy aircraft, not only the--the kamikaze, but the conventional fighter aircraft, the Zeroes, the di--the dive-bombers and the two-engine Betty bombers. But they were the prime targets of the kamikaze and so, you know, they--it was awful. I mean, it--it was scourge--hundreds of kamikaze and the bockelbomb, which was called the `foolish bomb,' because it was piloted by a man that's hurt nobody. And it w--was faster than a bullet, so it couldn't be seen, but it never worked.
LAMB: At the end of your book, you--you get into this controversy over whether or not the bomb should have been dropped.
LECKIE: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: Why did you decide to get into it?
LECKIE: I didn't decide to get into it because I've been trying to tell the truth for 40 years. And I went on a program last night and everybody's insisting that the atomic bombs--we only had two of them--compelled Japan to surrender. But I trust Harry Truman anytime--anytime. Honest. I don't care what anybody says, I loved that guy because he had true, raw courage.

And I s--was on a program last night and somebody questioned me and s--when I said that Harry Truman had formed what was called the US Strategic Bombing Survey to assess the effects of Allied bombing in World War II. And this man said, `Well, Roosevelt started that,' but I don't know how he could have started it because he died April 6th, I think, but--something like that, and the Germans didn't surrender till May and there was no way we could have assessed the effects of--of Allied bombing. He may put it--have put it in motion, but it was Truman who really did it.

Anyway, this survey declared: "Based on a detailed investigation of surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the survey's opinion that certainly prior to 31st December, 1945, and in all probability prior to 1st November, 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated," unquote. I mean, no judgment could be more unequivocal.
LAMB: You quote a letter that Harry Truman wrote to his sister in which he said it was a terrible decision.
LECKIE: Oh, yes, I know that.
LAMB: Where did you get the letter? I mean, that's the letter you quoted in your book.
LECKIE: Well, I have his memoirs.
LAMB: And when did he write that to his sister? Do you remember?
LECKIE: After he made the decision, after he was no longer president.
LAMB: And when he said it was a terrible decision, did he mean it was a bad decision?
LECKIE: Oh, no. No. What he meant was it was a terrible--a--a heartrending decision to have made. But, I mean, the things that this enemy did that--I mean, what do you think they would have done if they ha--had atomic weapons? I mean, it's like--have you ever played handball? Yeah. Well, you know some guys who collar--holler, `Hinder'? Well, the answer to that--I played with world champions. I'm not nearly as good as a--Pat Kirby. I saw him one time turn around to the guy and he said, `What would you have said if you had killed the ball?' You know what I mean?
LAMB: Now where--where do you live now?
LECKIE: I live in Byram township, New Jersey, in the boondocks.
LAMB: What--what do you think of--of all this writing you've done? I mean, has it been fun?
LECKIE: Oh, I think I've made a contribution and I'm pleased with it and I intend to continue. I--that's the great thing about mental skills, if you have them, as opposed to physical skills. Mental s--skills improve, unless you get Alzheimer's or something like that or you drink too much or whatever, but physical spills--skills, after so many years, begin to deteriorate.
LAMB: How big a family do you have?
LECKIE: Mine?
LAMB: Mm-hmm.
LECKIE: Three. I was the youngest of eight, though.
LAMB: And how old are your--how old is your family?
LECKIE: Well...
LAMB: Boys? Girls?
LECKIE: All--yeah.
LAMB: Kids?
LECKIE: Two boys and a girl. My brother, Jeff, is one of the finest artists in America. My son, Jeff, the oldest boy--sounds like Alzheimer's, doesn't it? But it's just old age. And he just finished decorating the castle in Limerick of the famous financier Peter Lynch. And he's done very well. He's about 44, very handsome, unlike his father.
LAMB: What about your other two kids?
LECKIE: Joan is a teacher of--high school teacher of Spanish. She goes to Spain almost every year. She's a fluent speaker, native speaker. And David is running and buying out his children--the handball-racquetball-health club that my wife and I opened 26 years ago, and he's buying his brother and sister out.
LAMB: So you run a--your own handball court?
LECKIE: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: That's what you did beside write books?
LECKIE: Yeah, right. I did it--I had s--a T-shirt made, and on the back of it, it said `We die in shape.' And then people would say, `Wait a minute. You play handball and you drink'? I said, `Well, you know, I play handball, so I can continue to dissipate. What do you think, you know?'
LAMB: And now when you write--how do you do it? How do you gather the information? Where do you do this?
LECKIE: Well, it's like anything else. One thing stands on the shoulders of another. So if I do research in, let us say, the Colonial Wars and then I do research on the Revolutionary War and then the 1812 and Mexico and the m--Indians and so on. It--it keeps building and you keep the notes and you buy the books. I don't--I--I buy everything I can because then I have all the sources at my hands. So I have about 4,000 or 5,000 books, almost all on military history, also on theology and religion because I--that was my first interest.
LAMB: I noticed that some of the books that you've written--"A Soldier Priest Talks to Youth"...
LECKIE: Yeah.
LAMB: ...you have one called "Ordained."
LECKIE: Yeah.
LAMB: There are others here that have to do with the--the Catholic Church.
LECKIE: Catholic--Catholic Church in America.
LAMB: Now...
LECKIE: And a study of the saints.
LAMB: ...what's the source of all that? When did you write those? Why?
LECKIE: Well, we--I went to parochial schools and--and I went to Fordham after the war, but as I said before, I never liked the classroom.
LAMB: Did you graduate from Fordham?
LECKIE: No. No way. I went to Buffalo with the AP, and besides, I--I--I honestly never liked it. Very frankly, I'll tell you, most of the time--I was kicked out of high school fairly regularly. And--and I would go down to the Passaic River with my dog and smoke cigarettes and watch the oil barge traffic, you know. They don't like to hear that because they--though it's the truth, isn't it? I'm telling you, the mavericks--look at--what--gee, what's his name? Robert Warrick--do you remember him? He went to the--I think, North Carolina. All he did was stay in his room and read novels and he did very well.
LAMB: Now over the years, how have you sold yourself? Now this is a Viking book.
LECKIE: Yes.
LAMB: Have you always written for Viking?
LECKIE: No. Began with Random House, and my editor there was Bob Loomis, and it was his first book and my first book. And it was "Helmet for my Pillow" and then I did "Strongmen Armed" and a thing about growing up, "Lord, What a Family," and then I--Doubleday, World, Harper--so--so many different ones. And then Viking is my f--this is my first book with Viking. Yeah. But they don't do much military history. Yeah.
LAMB: And--and--and what--when you--what--what--you told us what books did the best. Which books did you enjoy the most?
LECKIE: "Helmet for my Pillow" and "Strongmen Armed."
LAMB: How long did it take you to write this book?
LECKIE: This one?
LAMB: Yeah.
LECKIE: I'm look--we--three months.
LAMB: Three months?
LECKIE: Yeah. Yeah. That's only 55,000 words. The other books are--and--and don't forget, I've researched in the wars of America and "Strongmen Armed" and, as I say, these things stand on the shoulders and you don't destroy your notes. But when I did, let us say, "World War II," that--"Deli--Delivered From Evil," that took between two and three years. "Wars of America" also, but I kept updating that, so it could possibly be four--three or four. But the point is, if you're going to do a subject, you must master it, and if you're going to write 50,000 or 100,000, you've got to master it. So it really doesn't make that much difference in the length of the research and if it is in a particular field, like military history, as I said before, one book stands on the shoulders of the other. And this is all almost exclusively American military history, except that one book, "Warfare," which is a study of war, and it's a small book.
LAMB: In the end, how many copies of this book do you think will sell?
LECKIE: I don't--it's hard to say. I would say in hardcover it might sell as many as 30,000, which is big.
LAMB: And--it's big?
LECKIE: Oh, yeah. Yeah. It is big. It is big, because books--this book is $25 and, you know, that means for me--the--the standard contract is 10 percent of the retail price for the first 5,000 copies, 10--12 1/2 percent of the retail price for the next 5,000 and then 15 percent for all over 10,000. But you make more money in the paperback if it's a mass paperback, you know. But as I said before, I can still drink first-growth wines.
LAMB: What is your--in your opinion, what's the secret to your success in having 40 books?
LECKIE: I want to tell you, I came from a cultivated family. My father was a--a advertising and sales promotion manager for Joseph Cruc--Joseph Dixon Crucible Company, and he named all those famous pencils--Ticonderoga and so on and so forth. And he was very proud that every year the AP would put out a story--something they haven't ruined yet and always number one was Ticonderoga No. 2. He's--he's dead, of course. He would have loved that. But he was a very cultivated man, and he had a big library and there were dictionaries and encyclopedias all over the house and it--it was an intellectual atmosphere and you have a head start. I this may sound sententious or--or put-on or affected, but I always wanted to be a writer since I can remember. So, I mean, there was a--a s--a blackboard in the kitchen, you know, before I went to school and things like that, you know. So that--I never--I wanted to be a writer until I realized--and this sounds pretentious--that books were not the works of nature or of God but of men and women, and then I was--I was writing poetry since I was 12 or 13.
LAMB: What's the atmosphere in which you write?
LECKIE: Preferably a blank wall, but--oh, that's the best scenery for a writer--better for an artist, but not for a writer.
LAMB: A blank wall?
LECKIE: Yes.
LAMB: You mean you face a blank wall?
LECKIE: Sure. I have a lovely study, but once you're into it, I mean, it doesn't make any difference. But the difficulty is cranking up the machine, getting it started. You can sit there for hours, actually, because if you go past that, where you're at an impasse, you have to go back to it. You have to go back to it. And every morning or afternoon, whenever your write, you have to go up and shoot that old bear under your desk between the eyes. That's right. And you have to have enormous discipline, especially if you like your drink. I know so many good writers who went down the drain. If you like to drink, you can't do it. It's a reward. It should never be a crutch.
LAMB: So what time of day do you do it?
LECKIE: It depended in the start on my family, and I would always do it--my wife would get up earlier and feed them, put them off to school and I would exercise, play handball and so on in the morning, as I said, to exercise with an E and an O, to stay in shape and to exercise with an O, the devil booze. But I would always start writing about 1 until 5 or 6. Now I only write about 1 until 3.
LAMB: And do you write longhand?
LECKIE: No, typewriter. And I can't use those dreadful things they call word processors.
LAMB: Still have that Royal that your wife gave you and...
LECKIE: Oh, yeah. Yeah. But it disappeared long ago because I did a lot of writing. But I wrote my first three books on it. But I have four typewriters, you know. They don't make them anymore. No. And I tried to get the so-called word processor, and when I write, I put my hands on the keyboard to think. Well, what the hell--that sends the thing crazy, and if you have a power outage--say you've got three months in that thing--pow. I'm serious. So I decided, no, that's not for me. I'm not of this age. I have the finest mind of the 13th century. This is not my century. I mean, people talk of the Internet and so on--I don't care about that kind of stuff.
LAMB: How do you like it when you go around to this kind of stuff?
LECKIE: I--I--what?
LAMB: Interviewing. Do you--do you like to be interviewed? Television interviews? Radio interviews? I mean, is--what do you think of that part of this...
LECKIE: Well, I--I--I enjoy that because it's a form of recognition, and I--I--and I say I do enjoy it. And I--and I love doing what I'm doing and I always wanted to do it and it's wonderful. I was at Kiawah Island--we had a house--you ever--you heard of Kiawah.
LAMB: Sure.
LECKIE: OK. All right. We had a house down there for 13 years and it was--Kiawah is lovely. It's beautiful. And it's not like--like, say, Vanderbilt Village, Florida, which is also beautiful, but it's manicured. Kiawah is natural beauty and so on, and so many of these retired executives, doctors, lawyers and so on would say to me, `You know, you're really lucky.' I said, `I know it.' They said, `You have something to do.' They said, `All we can do is play golf or bridge and drink.' You see, you shouldn't retire if you're healthy.
LAMB: How much longer do you intend to write books?
LECKIE: Well, my mother lived to be 87, my father lived to be 85, my brother, John, who was 14 years older than me, just died of--a couple of weeks ago. He was 88. So...
LAMB: And how old are you now? Seventy-five?
LECKIE: Seventy-four. I'll be 75 in December.
LAMB: Are you working on your next book?
LECKIE: Yeah. I'm doing a series of novels for Torah, a branch of St. Martin's Press: "Americans at War." It will taken--take the fighting Flynn family through all the wars. I began this book more than 15 years ago for New American Library, but then somebody who was a higher-up in New American Library--I did three of them--gave an unknown--an unpublished author an advance--listen to this--$850,000 and the exodus from NEA--N-A-L, as it was called, was enormous. And I just quit. I mean, I--I had four editors on one book. It was terrible.

It's now owned by Viking and it's quite different but I'm doing these for a different outfit and--and it's--it's--it's some--a--a good change of pace, you know? I mean, I love to write. But I--and I love--you can't turn a phrase very well in fiction. I mean, in--in--in fact--in history. Goddam. You cannot turn a phrase very well in fiction, but, in fact, in history, you can. Do you know what I mean? You know? I--let's say somebody like Churchill--he was--a woman came up to him--and he was a master of repartee, as you know--and--and a woman came up to him--him and she said, `Winston, you're drunk.' And he said, `Bessie, you're ugly. But tomorrow, I shall be sober.' Do you understand what I mean? You can do that in dialogue, maybe, but to turn fiction--like the thing I read to you, you can't do that in fiction because--You know what?--the editor will write in--in--in the margin, `purple prose.'
LAMB: Of all the--and--and you've got a book here on George Washington...
LECKIE: Yeah.
LAMB: ...and the sage of the s...
LECKIE: Well, that's George Washington's war, the Revolution.
LAMB: Yeah. You've got one on the American Civil War. You've got a book here on the saga of World War II, on and on. Of all the people you've written about...
LECKIE: Yeah.
LAMB: ...in the--in the last--How many years?--20, 30 years...
LECKIE: Been a long time--long time.
LAMB: ...50--50 years, who do you admire the most?
LECKIE: Who do I admire the most? You know, it's a funny thing.
LAMB: Who would you like for...
LECKIE: I--I--I may--I may not surprise you, but who do I admire the most as an American?
LAMB: Just--the kind of people you've been writing about...
LECKIE: Or--or for--for the world--for the history of the world. That's--I mean...
LAMB: ...that you--all the people you've written about, who did you--who would you have liked to have met that you wrote about?
LECKIE: I liked Harry Truman among living presidents that were in my so--same era. I also admired George Washington. I admired--although he was a prince--Thomas Edison. Think of the things he did. Think of what he did. He lighted the world--movies, film, every--you know, so many things. And he was irascible as--as could be. But so what? He--he--he achieved, really. James Madison, the author of our Constitution. He was a political genius. It's always being ascribed to Thomas Jefferson, but that just isn't so. It was Madison. Little guy, huge...
LAMB: Are you--are you political yourself?
LECKIE: No. No. I--no, no. I do not--no, I do not admire politicians. But I do admire politicians who become statesmen. They--something happens in the presidency that alters--should alter--a man's attitude. He is no longer a political animal. But that doesn't happen too frequently.
LAMB: Have you met any of these folks that--did you ever meet Harry Truman or Dwight Eisenhower or Douglas MacArthur?
LECKIE: Well, I met Truman once when I was a newspaper man in Buffalo, when he defeated Dewey and he had that big headline, you know, `GOP Wins White House.' He's got a big grin on his face, showing it to the crowd--'48 and I--he came to Buffalo and I covered him. He was on that whistle-stop, you know? I never met anybody else. I don't--I don't seek the company of politicians.
LAMB: We'll go back to this book on--"Okinawa: The Last Battle of World War II." Once in a while you get some glimpse in here what you thought of the Japanese.
LECKIE: The Japanese soldier was a very brave man. Don't let anyone tell you differently. But he was very badly led. He was also extremely cruel. You know, the defect of the virtue of bravery is often cruelty. And I'll give you an ex--I--did I give you an example about New Britain? No. All right. I'll give you an example. On Guadalacanal, the Japanese captured a Marine and they tied him to a tree and they had their medical corpsman there and they gave a lecture in vivisection. Vivisection. Yeah, that's right. And this comes from a diary. They were inveterate diarists. And the--and the Japanese medic said--wrote in his diary, `It was the most interesting lecture I ever attended.'

And then on New Britain I had a buddy named Sticky Davis--I think that was his name--and he was a flanker as we marched from one place to another. That's a great jungle there, you know. And s--somehow they captured him. They tied him to a tree, too. And when we found him he had 33 bayonet wounds in his body, plus his Marine tattoo stuffed in his mouth, followed by his penis.

I don't know--no. I do not admire them at all. I think they're savage and primitive. And they're just as primitive and savage in their economic warfare as they were in their military warfare. And you know the--the--the record; jeez, those fellows--John Keegan--and he wrote a summary of--in the London Times and, you know--terrible and I'm sure you've seen the--the articles in The New York Times or The Washington Post, whatever, of this phony science. They took a man and put him in a huge glass capsule and cut him vertically and wanted to see what made him tick and so on and so forth. They were going to disc--they did discover that biological warfare could be used against American cities but the whole point is, how were they going to deliver it? There's no way they could have carried it across 7,000 miles of ocean.
LAMB: What's their weakness?
LECKIE: Pardon?
LAMB: What, in your opinion, is the Japanese weakness?
LECKIE: Weakness is that they're still tribal. They're still tribal. They changed overnight. I--I wrote in--in my book "Delivery From Evil," a--a study of--of the Japanese people and overnight they changed from being tribal, with their samurai authorized to, you know, kill anyone who's doing anything different, to Westernized. It was almost comical. They wore top hats, frock coats and so on. And, of course, they're small people and it was almost comical. They absolutely changed from a hermetical, tribal people trying to be Western. But I don't think, down deep, that they changed very much from the samurais, they merely changed to thought police.
LAMB: One last thing. You write about Ernie Pyle in this book.
LECKIE: Oh, he was the best.
LAMB: And Er--who was Ernie Pyle, for someone that has never heard of him?
LECKIE: Ernie Pyle was the most famous war corespondent in World War II. He was the bravest and the most compassionate and he never went behind the lines like the great `I am,' Ernest Hemingway. Everybody's--when I was writing "World War II," my editor said, `Are you going to put in Hemingway liberating Paris?' I said, `I'd kill myself first because he never liberated Paris.' Ike had the good sense to listen to de Gaulle and he had the French liberate Paris. The showman Hemingway would go out during the day in his Jeep but go back to a hotel behind the lines and drink brandy and tell stories and so on. Pyle was always with the troops. It's a shame that he couldn't have stayed longer with the Marines.
LAMB: Where was he killed?
LECKIE: Yayshima--where the Japanese, before it was overrun by us, eight--downed American pilots.
LAMB: And where's Yayshima?
LECKIE: Off Okinawa.
LAMB: How far off?
LECKIE: Fifty miles, something like that. I don't know.
LAMB: You devote in here three different photos to the Ernie Pyle story and here's a photo right here of the actual burial.
LECKIE: Yes. Yeah. It--it was a sniper--no. Well, no, it was a machine-gunner and he was with a company commander in a Jeep and they went into a ditch; he lifted his head up out of the service and right--above his, you know--and right between the--in the forehead. He--he wrote a most moving story about the burial of a captain--he had a Polish name--and he--an Army captain and the troops were really diverted--diverted--devoted to him. It was really great. Really great. He was good. He was the best.
LAMB: Do you--anybody in today's media world--would the soldiers be devoted?
LECKIE: No, I don't think so. Because--for one thing, World War II was told. Everybody was in it so that the writings of these correspondents were famous. Oh, the guy with the AP; he was good, too. Jesus--I did a book with--oh, what the--oh--big guy. It's the trouble. I don't have Alzheimer's. But I--it's old age. But anyway, his name was Boyle--Harold--Hal Boyle. He was another of the great ones. He was with AP and he was much like Pyle in his habits. And he was very good. And, of course, their--their--their reports and--and articles were in the public press day after day after day and they were famous. But neither of them, Boyle or Ernie Pyle, went home. And when Pyle--when World War II was over in Europe, Pyle went to the Pacific with the Marines.
LAMB: Here's what the cover of the book looks like. The subject is "Okinawa: The Last Battle of World War II." And our guest has been Robert Leckie. Thank you very much.
LECKIE: Thank you.


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